Clarifying how important your team is for the company’s mission could just be the thing to help unleash their full potential.
Literature in the field of people management suggests that grasping the connection between individual work and a broader mission fosters greater daily engagement and consequently, enhanced performance. As managers, we should strive to provide business context on high-level projects and make it clear to the team how they will contribute.
Situational aspects to consider
Smaller organizations are often characterized by fewer hierarchical layers between teams and senior leadership. For this reason, providing wider context on projects tends to be more easily achieved. Large structures, unfortunately, make people far from the company's high-level objectives because the work is usually too specialized.
For example, if an ecommerce company intends to build an important feature such as pre-orders, it will require changes across the platform: inventory, logistics, finance, and checkout are some engineering teams that will have a certain degree of participation. For some of them, major changes are needed, such as a new microservice to deal with the fulfillment of new order types. For others, localized changes in existing services are required to deal with the lack of immediate stock.
These more localized projects, that require work on a smaller scale, may look like engineers connecting pull requests several months in advance of the feature launch, without any insight into the final goal of these actions. As a result of the time lapse between the task’s completion and the activation of the final feature, this work may be forgotten and not properly celebrated. If this happens recurrently, the team can start feeling like they are not relevant to the company, even when the work done has been fundamental. This feeling of irrelevance might make the team less engaged and motivated.
Here are some helpful strategies you can use to empower engineering teams by outlining their importance and the depth of their contribution to broader company objectives.
Engaging your team through their relevance
People tend to prioritize and be more invested in work that they feel is more relevant. Not only this, but humans like to be recognized as being part of something. Fostering a culture of relevance is therefore fundamental to keeping them engaged in company objectives, which, in turn, tends to influence them into being more performant and results-oriented.
Project kickoff meetings
Project kickoff meetings with engineering teams provide a space to overview how the work to be done will fit into the organization. If the work your team is looking after belongs to a major project, provide some background information on how the group’s resulting feature contributes to the end product. Managers should also address other factors of the project, such as when and how the team’s increment will be integrated with other parts of the final product.
If the project is more localized to a team’s systems, explain how the resulting work will contribute to some of the company's primary targets, such as cost reduction, profitability, and modularization.
Even with a good project kickoff meeting, some reinforcements will be necessary to remind the team of their relevance to the success of company-level projects.
Monthly gatherings provide a great opportunity to present some achievements and plans for the next month. Have a specific space to talk about some important projects going live, their results, and how your team contributed to them.
Setting time aside to celebrate wins and present results related to team projects is essential. Monthly gatherings are a great way to do this. If the goal was cost reduction, how much are we saving? If more revenue is expected, how is it going?
This recognition is fundamental to keep the team engaged for future projects. In much the same way that we justify the project’s importance with metrics targets during kick-off it’s natural that, in the end, we present the outcome.
Team missions can evolve over time
In a distributed (non-monolith) platform, engineering teams usually have a set of products they own and maintain. The company’s overall architecture summarizes the products, the teams that are responsible for them, and how they should interact based on the organization’s current needs. Each team must have a clear mission associated with the company’s goals and each team’s products should be attaining them.
For example, reducing the logistics operational company costs might be the overarching logistics mission, but a sub-category product owned in this area might be a routing optimization system that needs to be completed. Mission and architecture are clearly connected.
Reference architectures that delineate sub-category products in any given area help to outline how products interact and future plans. Architecture is an integral aspect of seeing through a company’s mission and so should be monitored to ensure it is reflective. Often, these documents will be in constant revision since modern organizations are always in transformation.
Ultimately, being in contact with this kind of documentation makes engineers more prepared to handle low-level technical decisions aligned with the organization's goals.
Reinforcing the company’s mission, at least once a year, is a great way to keep your team up to date. Refresher sessions give managers the chance to address if something has changed in the business and present the reasons behind it.
For instance, if there have been several shifts in the architecture we don't want the artifacts to lose meaning due to constant revisions without clear explanations. Managers should therefore constantly socialize reference architecture with the team to avoid any knowledge gaps. Communicate with your reports to analyze what still makes sense and what can be removed.
Once these have been discussed, update the artifact with the architectural change. Knowing the rationale and participating in some decisions can help them improve their autonomy when implementing the product. It’s highly costly to have features being developed completely misaligned with the company’s or area’s future plans, so getting this right is incredibly important.
Managers can also use these refresher sessions to share how the team built on last year’s mission and in what ways people have contributed.
Reinforcing the company vision and clarifying a team’s impact on the organization helps to engage teams, celebrates success, and fosters a sense of belonging. This results in a high retention rate with low turnover. Often, managers do not allocate enough time to address these themes, which is why finding the right means to do so for your team with tools and documents already available to you is paramount.